Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Season 2012/2013: Match 11: Charlton Athletic 2 Peterborough United 0 (nPower Championship)

Bundled on a train to London in aid of work once again, I found myself with two evenings to kill in the capital.

Given the choice between Chelsea v Fulham on Wednesday night for the princely sum of £76.50, or Charlton v Peterborough on Tuesday night for the less eye-watering figure of £15, I chose the latter.

Fifteen of the Queen's pounds seemed like a bargain for Championship football, given that ticket prices in Scottish Division Three are typically around that sum.

I anticipated that the football on show would be better than that displayed by the likes of Montrose and East Stirlingshire, and that the ground would be warmer than Links Park.

I was wrong on both counts.

The football served up by the two teams was largely honking, with neither side able to find a proper rhythm or many credible attempts on goal. And on the weather front, I appear to have brought some Scottish chill with me, as London has felt colder than Montrose these past two days.

Those players on show with a Scottish connection gave a mixed performance, Peterborough's Caledonian striker George "No, the other Boyd" Boyd looked decent in fits and bursts, but struggled to make a lasting impact. Danny Swanson, formerly of Dundee Utd, made a late appearance as a substitute, making no impression on the match. Former Rangers man Salim Kerkar also danced around the wing for a while.

But former Hearts man Ricardo Fuller saved an otherwise drab match from going down in the record books as a turgid 0-0 draw when he collected the ball 25 yards from goal and fired a shot over visiting keeper Robert Olejnik. Unfortunately it appeared he pulled his hamstring in the process and was immediately substituted.

Frenchman Yann Kermorgant put the result beyond doubt near the death, sliding in at the back post to nudge the ball over the line.

The most famous Scottish person involved in the match was Darren Ferguson, the Peterborough manager who will always bear the unfortunate introduction "Alex's son". If he's anything like his old man, the Peterborough players will have had a post-match roasting for failing to win a match in which they were easily the better team.

All in all, my first visit to The Valley was disappointing - the club shop was overpriced, there were no street sellers peddling dodgy scarves and the match itself was poor considering the supposed quality of the league.

But it's another ground chalked off on the never-ending quest to visit them all...

Man of the match: Very few contenders from that match, as both sides were poor. But Ricardo Fuller's audacious goal brightened up an otherwise forgettable affair.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Season 2012/2013: Match 10: Montrose 2 Peterhead 0 (Irn-Bru Scottish Football League Division Three)

Earth spins on its axis largely because some natural phenomena remain constant, such as the planet's distance from the sun, its close relationship with the moon and the sure-fire knowledge that Montrose are pish at football.

Quite what Mother Earth makes of the Gable Endies sitting fourth (FOURTH!) in the Division Three table is anyone's guess. But I can't help but feel that the planet's recent passion for hurricanes, snow storms, monsoons, volcanoes and other such ostentatious displays of ferocity have something to do with Stuart Garden's men sitting in the play-off spots.

The fact that they're doing it with a squad that has lost Martin Boyle to the Dundee substitute's bench, but that is otherwise largely the same group of players that has toiled over the past four seasons, is surprising in itself (although any side able to remove the twin liabilities that were Messrs Smart and Cameron is probably on the road to redemption, even if Dougie is back as the new club mascot).

Today's performance over big-spending Peterhead (copyright every journalist who has covered the Balmoor side over the past 18 months) was another marked by hard graft across the whole squad, with a well-linked defence and midfield, and an industrious front line.

Garry Wood and Leighton McIntosh appear to be gelling well as a striking partnership, even if the latter player still seems averse to actually scoring goals. Wood was the key component of the attack today, scoring Montrose's first with a shot placed in the bottom corner in the fourth minute then creating the second when he beat Ryan Strachan and squared the ball for Terry Masson to sweep the ball into the net.

Jamie Winter may have toned down his need to play a Steven Gerrard-inspired Hollywood pass every time he gets the ball, but he's replaced the showboating with a previously-unseen work ethic. He's a real driving force in the middle of the park now, freeing Masson up to kick people and win his weekly yellow card.

Big Mad Lee Wilkie and his 3,000-yard stare also seem to be having an effect on the defence, possibly due to BMLW threatening to perform appendectomies on the players with his bare hands and no anaesthetic if they concede any goals. That would explain:

A) Why they kept a clean sheet today despite selecting Alan Campbell's Incredible Arthritic Knees alongside Jonathan 'Napoleon Dynamite' Crawford at centre back, even in the face of Peterhead ending the match with 17 strikers on the pitch.

B) Where Paul Lunan has been for the past few weeks.

Peterhead's squad really is filled with objectionable characters from front to back, from Ryan Strachan claiming that it was a "Peterheid baw" every time the ball went out of play, even those occasions when he had intentionally kicked it out of play; to mental David Cox, a player so disruptive he was sacked by Steven Tweed despite being a fairly decent footballer for a week or two; to the triumvirate of twats that is Robbie Winters, Martin Bavidge and Rory McAllister. Not since the days of van Hooijdonk, Cadete and Di Canio has one Scottish team fielded so many utter cunts in the same attack.

The visitors may have deployed those three ballsacks in an effort to break Montrose down, but it didn't work, Montrose displaying a grit and composure not normally associated with those donning the not-so-famous light blue shirts.

There's still a long way to go this season, and Montrose have played more games than every other team in Division Three. On the assumption that Rangers will win the title, there are half a dozen or maybe even more sides who will be looking for a play-off place.

That Montrose are even still in consideration with a third of the season gone speaks volumes for their improvement under Garden and BMLW. Long may it continue.

Editor's note: It has been brought to my attention that I have not been giving sufficient coverage to the witty insights, scintillating banter and just general awesomeness that I receive on a fortnightly basis from my press corps colleague.

I could remedy this by pointing out how much fun we have when I am forced to join the 267-mile pie queue at half time each week, even though I don't want anything, just so I can act as a banter receptor.

Or I could list the delightful and engaging conversations I am regularly dragged into, where all-too-frequent topics include the girth of Lee McCulloch's penis, famous Danish smack addict footballers and the merits of former footballer Barry Ferguson.

I could despair over being asked, ad infinitum, how much a corner flag costs, whether I think Sandy Wood is hot/big/cute/elegant and "what just happened?".

But I won't do that. None of it. I'll just post this picture drawn by my press colleague instead, as an insight into the world she inhabits.

Man of the Match: Another solid team performance today, with no-one disgracing themselves. Normally I'm inclined to go for attacking players when selecting my man of the match, and Garry Wood would have fitted the bill with a foot in both goals. But I actually thought that Alan Campbell had one of the best games I've seen him play, marhsalling the defence well even when Peterhead threw the kitchen sink at them in search of goals.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Season 2012/2013: Match 9: Montrose 1 Queen's Park 1 (Irn-Bru Scottish Football League Division Three)

While I long ago gave up hope of a professional football career (although I do still believe that I might get a game for Montrose some day), I can occasionally be persuaded to don multiple layers of battle armour, lather myself in Deep Heat and drag my decaying carcass onto a football pitch.

Today was one of those days, as Montrose FC Supporters' Club took on their counterparts from Queen's Park. Shoehorned into a three-man defence, I managed not to make any catastrophic errors, departing the pitch for the first time with the home side 1-0 up.

By the time my I rolled back onto the park we were 4-1 down, the match finally ending in a 7-2 defeat that makes the 'real' Montrose FC look competent.

So it was with stiff legs and a skreeved arse - it would seem that grass can burn just as badly as the Brillo pad surface at Links Park - that I plonked myself in the stand at the Wellington Street Wembley hoping that, if nothing else, Montrose would concede fewer goals than their fanclub.

Sandy Wood was back in goal, having served his suspension after his sending off against Elgin two weeks earlier. Terry Masson made the bench, with Jamie Winter and Dougie Cameron lookalike Monty The Mole leading the home side out.

Montrose hit the ground running, Lloyd Young opening the scoring after just 40 seconds when Queen's Park were unable to clear from a corner. The ball bobbled around the box, finally falling for the midfielder to lash a shot into the roof of the net.

From then on, it was an open and even encounter, Montrose looking dangerous down the flanks while Queen's Park threatened mostly from corners.

It goes without saying that the refereeing would have disgraced  a pub league - in fact, the official at our bounce match in the morning was better than the one in charge at Links Park. The standside linesman also seemed to take leave of his senses at one point, squaring up to Lee Wilkie, a course of action not recommended to those who like to keep all of their body parts joined together.

Anyway, Queen's Park's main defensive tactic appeared to be "Kick Garry Wood. Hard." It was mildly succesful, although repeatedly kicking a wardrobe in the freezing cold can't be the most rewarding way to spend your afternoon.

But it took Queen's Park 79 minutes of their trench warfare - and the introduction of Montrose's semi-professional irritant Terry Masson - to pick up their solitary booking.

By that time they'd levelled the scores, thanks to a sublime goal from Paul Gallacher. The midfielder cut inside Scott Johnston, dipped his shoulder as he jinked through a second challenge and curled a sweet left-foot shot over and around Wood from 22 yards out.

Montrose knew that a win would take them above the visitors and into the uncharted territory of the playoff places, and they took the match to their opponents. What resulted was 20 minutes of fast end-to-end football in which both sides created plenty of chances but failed to capitalise. Masson came close with a volley, while Wood was agonisingly close with a flicked header.

A draw was probably a fair result, although Montrose could have edged it with a bit more luck. A year ago they'd have been pumped, so the progress continues.

Which is more than can be said for the footballing career of one G. Jock of Montrose...

Man of the Match: Another solid team performance from Montrose today. Jamie Winter looked disciplined in his role as captain, although he lacked some of the outrageous spark we've come to expect. Garry Wood was tireless up front in the face of a war of attrition, while Lloyd Young was equally active. For me, Ricky McIntosh was the stand-out performer, the left back keeping things under control at the back while also managing to push forward and involve himself in Montrose's attacks.